Green Party’s election climate plan gets top marks from municipalities

More than 200 municipal leaders have issued a “report card” on the federal parties’ climate platforms in hope of pushing Canada’s next government to better tackle the climate crisis’s impact on cities.

The Climate Caucus is a network of hundreds of Canadian mayors and city councillors working to limit global heating to 1.5 C, as recommended by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s.

On Wednesday, the organization released grades for each party’s climate change platform based on an assessment of their policies on transportation, buildings, waste, land use and adaptation.

The grades are as follows:

    • Conservatives: D-
    • Greens: A-
    • Liberals: B
    • NDP: B
    • People’s Party of Canada: F

“One of our main purposes as local governments is to challenge the provinces and federal government to do more on climate change,” Rik Logtenberg, a city councillor in Nelson, B.C., and co-founder of the Climate Caucus, said in an interview. “We have sympathy and understanding of the task at hand that others don’t. We understand that fighting climate change is complicated, especially if you’re trying to build a realistic climate platform. We understand that it’s difficult.”

According to UN Habitat, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy, and produce more than 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, cities will be home to two-thirds of the world’s population.

“Our asks have a lot of weight, because these are specific things we need tomorrow. Cities are carrying a lot of the weight right now to mitigate climate change, so this report card is deeply grounded in the reality of today” – @riklogtenberg

In Canada, cities are on the frontline of the fight against the climate crisis, Logtenberg said. But receive just over 10 cents on the dollar of all taxes collected in Canada, 80 per cent of which goes directly toward providing services, operations and maintenance.

This means local governments have only 20 per cent of the tax dollars they receive to protect and preserve the majority of Canada’s infrastructure from climate change.

According to a recent report conducted by Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, avoiding the worst effects of climate change at the municipal level will cost an estimated $5.3 billion per year, shared among all three levels of government.

Whoever forms government Monday will have to work with the leaders on the ground dealing with the issues that best facilitate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

“We, probably more than any other organization in Canada, are dealing with the impacts of climate change already,” Logtenberg said. “We’re actively working on rebuilding our transportation infrastructure. We’re rebuilding our building codes. We’re managing our municipal composting system with the intent of removing methane. We are dealing with the realities of climate change day to day.”

“Our asks have a lot of weight, because these are specific things we need tomorrow,” he added. “Cities are carrying a lot of the weight right now to mitigate climate change, so this report card is deeply grounded in the reality of today.” MORE

Indigenous issues largely absent from 2019 election

Still from debate livestream. Image: YouTube

The unofficial slogan for the 2015 Liberal election campaign was “there is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples.” It was a mantra shared repeatedly by Justin Trudeau pre- and post-election and stood in stark contrast to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s adversarial relationship with First Nations. In fact, it was Trudeau’s election promise to make Indigenous issues a political priority, together with his commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship grounded in respect for Indigenous rights, that helped his party win the Indigenous vote.

While not all Indigenous people voted for the Liberals, record numbers of them voted — largely to help the Liberals unseat the Conservatives. Fast-forward to this election and Trudeau started his campaign with a speech that focused on the middle class and ignored Indigenous peoples entirely. Indigenous issues then seemed to slowly disappear.

In addition to not mentioning Indigenous peoples in his first campaign speech, Trudeau also didn’t show up for the first leaders’ debate hosted by Maclean’s and Citytv, which is, in essence also failing to show up on Indigenous issues. While the Maclean’s debate started out well, with strong interventions from Elizabeth May of the Green Party, the void left by Trudeau’s absence allowed the leader of the Conservatives, Andrew Scheer, to turn every question on Indigenous issues into a discussion on forcing approval of natural resource projects regardless of First Nation opposition. At one point, he spoke against Indigenous groups “holding hostage” resource projects — the same kind of aggressive stereotypes used by the former Harper government that paint First Nations as dangerous. While both May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called him on this disrespectful language, Trudeau was missing in action and not there to provide the kind of response Canadians expect of a leader who claimed to be committed to respectful nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous peoples.

Trudeau’s absence also allowed the candidates the extra time to turn questions about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the dire need for safe drinking water on reserves into a debate over Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. While the host, with the exception of one attempt at redirection, allowed the Indigenous issues segment to devolve into pipelines and SNC-Lavalin, the candidates also used their precious time to take digs at Trudeau and neglected to focus on Indigenous issues.

Given that the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls concluded that Canada is guilty of both historic and ongoing race-based genocide against Indigenous peoples, which specifically targets Indigenous women and girls, it is unfathomable that this was not even a question by the moderator or debated by the candidates. Early on Indigenous families feared that the urgent action required to end genocide against Indigenous women and girls would be lost to talk of pipelines and elections. Sadly, and shamefully, this has become a reality.

The first leaders’ debate which included Trudeau, focused more on pipelines, climate change and taxes for the middle class than on Indigenous questions asked or the multiple, overlapping crises brought about by ongoing genocide which is literally killing Indigenous peoples. While this is in part the fault of the host for framing the first question around Scheer’s proposed pipeline corridor and inviting debate about pipelines instead of focusing on Indigenous priorities, the candidates also had a responsibility to refocus the debate.

Trudeau, May, and Singh have platforms with significant commitments on Indigenous issues, yet all failed to promote these commitments during the debate or force discussion on the bigger issues like murdered and missing Indigenous women, the crisis of Indigenous kids in foster care, the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in prison, or the extreme poverty on many reserves. Neither Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, nor Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet made much of a contribution to the debate on Indigenous issues at all.

At this stage, it doesn’t look like Indigenous issues will feature prominently in the rest of the campaign and are at risk of disappearing entirely from focus. This development is in no way benign or the natural ebb and flow of election campaigns. This appears to be a purposeful strategy to take focus away from the national inquiry’s finding of genocide in relation to murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal finding of willful and reckless racial discrimination against First Nations children, the many interventions of the United Nations treaty bodies about Canada’s grave human rights violations of Indigenous peoples, and the failure to address water issues on reserve.

Moreover, Trudeau’s long list of promises — like the promise to repeal former prime minister Harper’s legislative suite imposed on First Nations, the amendment of Bill C-51 legislation to address its negative impacts on First Nations, the promise to review federal laws to ensure compliance with Section 35 of the Constitution Act (Aboriginal and treaty rights), and the promise to implement UNDRIP in an unqualified way — all remain unfulfilled.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is not without fault here. They are a major barrier to the development of an actual nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations and have failed to strenuously demand accountability for the deaths of Indigenous peoples from Canada’s own laws, policies and practices. Instead, the AFN has been so busy praising the Trudeau government and encouraging First Nations to vote, that they too have failed to really push the candidates to prioritize Indigenous issues.

Instead, the AFN issued a laundry list of so-called priorities that focus on meetings, processes, dialogue and more paternalistic federal laws and policies. All of which translates into millions of dollars for the AFN, but little substantive change at the local First Nation level — the actual rights-bearing governments. Any party platform that grounds reconciliation in a relationship exclusively through the AFN condemns us all to the status quo.

Trudeau has deflected the growing national crises in First Nations thus allowing the Conservatives to downplay their political commitments, if any, to Indigenous peoples….

While the Green Party and NDP have made significant commitments in their platforms to address many of these urgent issues, practically speaking, neither will likely form the next government. So, while their attempts to elevate the urgency of these issues are commendable, their ability to raise the bar past the very low bar set by the two so-called governing parties is limited. The ripple effect will then be felt in the mainstream media coverage and the opinions of everyday Canadians.  MORE

Trudeau’s Promised Indigenous Housing Strategy Still Nowhere in Sight

We spoke to Indigenous leaders and housing advocates to learn what’s at stake and what they want to hear from the parties.

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UBCIC’s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the failure to fix the Indigenous housing crisis is ‘a dimension of racism.’ Photo by David P. Ball.

Next month marks the two-year anniversary of the Trudeau government’s launch of Canada’s first-ever National Housing Strategy.

But Indigenous people, whose ancestors have lived here for tens of thousands of years, were barely mentioned, with no new funding marked solely for Indigenous housing.

This despite the fact that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people — just five per cent of the overall population in Canada — are far more likely to live in overcrowded or unsafe housing, pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing or become homeless.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, an umbrella organization of First Nations governments, says the failure to address the Indigenous housing crisis is easily explained.

“It’s a dimension of racism,” he said. “And society’s attitude is ‘Indigenous people have always been poor. They’ve always lived in substandard, dilapidated housing. What would one expect? They’re Indigenous peoples,’ right?”

The Liberal government pledged in 2017 to create housing strategies for Inuit, Métis and First Nations people.

But almost two years later, there are still no Indigenous housing strategies.

Only the NDP has included such strategies in its election platform, although former Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said in a recent debate on housing that his party is “committed” to a separate national urban Indigenous housing strategy by and for urban Indigenous people.

Robert Byers, chair of the Indigenous housing caucus for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, an umbrella group for social and Indigenous housing providers in Canada, is not surprised by the delay.

He cites his own experience working on the national homelessness strategy released earlier this year.

“Imagine how slow something can go, and then slow it down about three or four more times,” he said, adding he understands federal policies and procedures need to be followed when creating a national strategy and that takes time. But it only accounts for some of the delay, Byers said, and he doesn’t know what else could be holding the strategy up. MORE

BC Fed: To Tackle Economic Insecurity, Workers Need an NDP Government

Why BC’s labour federation is endorsing the party led by Jagmeet Singh

[Editor’s note: Readers may be wondering which of the federal parties has earned the support of the labour movement, given the national arm, the Canadian Labour Congress, is not endorsing anybody this election. However, the BC Federation of Labour has now weighed in with this op-ed submitted to The Tyee.]

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‘Jagmeet speaks to the struggles facing so many Canadians in this moment of rising precarious work and economic anxiety.’ Photo by Valerie Blum, EPA.

This week, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh joined striking hotel workers on a Vancouver picket line. He marched and chanted with hundreds of workers who had been out of work for over three weeks and voiced his support for their fight for safe working conditions, stable employment, and fair wages.

To us, Jagmeet’s support for these workers was much more than a campaign photo-op. It was a show of character and values.

Jagmeet used the opportunity to speak to the struggles facing so many Canadians in this moment of rising precarious work and economic anxiety for workers and their families. It was yet more evidence of a campaign that has made clear who Jagmeet is fighting for: working people. By taking time out from a busy campaign to show workers he cares, he exemplified the kind of principles, and leadership, we sorely need in a Prime Minister.

The NDP is currently enjoying a surge in support and excitement. It should be no surprise. When you have a clear focus on tackling inequality, taking on powerful interests, and investing in public programs, it tends to resonate with people, too many of whom are living pay cheque to pay cheque.

While the Conservatives and Liberals have focused their campaign messages on meagre competing tax cuts, Jagmeet has talked about big ideas. He has talked about tax fairness and being a voice for working people rather than the rich and wealthy. Indeed, the NDP has stressed the need for a new tax on the super-wealthy with fortunes over $20 million. That tax will not only help reduce economic inequality, it is part of ambitious plans to raise new revenues to fund access to new and expanded public programs.

Canada’s public health care system is rightly something Canadians are proud of. But Jagmeet has campaigned to improve on the status quo, to reduce costs and improve the lives of millions of Canadians through universal access. This includes creating a public pharmacare plan to pay for drug costs, and a public program to finally include free dental care in the health system.

The NDP is also offering solutions on three other affordability challenges that British Columbians know too well, promising a massive investment in new affordable housing, committing to forgive interest on student loans, and creating a desperately needed universal child-care program.

Under Jagmeet, the NDP has also been clear on the need for bold climate action with investments in clean energy, rapid transit and building retrofits from coast to coast to coast. The NDP’s plan includes recognizing Indigenous rights and ensuring workers in existing fossil fuel-related industries have meaningful supports during the shift to a green economy, while also ensuring green jobs are family- and community-supporting jobs. MORE

 

Imagining Northern BC Without Oil and Gas

Tyee readers asked us to report on how to transition to a green economy without lost jobs. Here are some answers for one region.

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The northern BC economy is heavily steeped in oil and gas jobs. But programs like the University of Northern British Columbia’s Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design program are training workers for a new economy. Photo courtesy of UNBC.

Last month’s massive marches to demand action on climate change showed the issue has become central to this election campaign.

But when we asked Tyee readers to guide our election coverage, they wanted to know how the parties would transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval.

It’s a critical question, especially for British Columbia’s north. As one of the fastest-warming regions in the country, it’s already feeling the impact of the climate crisis.

And with its reliance on resource industries — especially oil and gas development in the northeast, pipelines that carry products to the coast, and coming liquefied natural gas plants — it would be most dramatically affected by a transition away from fossil fuels.

That’s not the only impact. Traditional industries like fisheries and forestry are currently struggling and face an uncertain future, in part due to a warming climate.

What will the transition mean for the north?

The shift to a low-carbon economy has traditionally been touted as a choice between jobs and environment. But there’s a growing awareness that the outlook might not be so bleak. Exciting opportunities exist, not only in a post-carbon world, but in the journey to get there.

In August, Forbes touted the shift as “the single biggest business opportunity in human history.”

Experts interviewed by The Tyee about the transition to a post-carbon economy tended to make three points: It’s possible. It likely won’t be comfortable. And it’s going to take a lot of political will.

Marc Lee, senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says how easily we transition depends on how quickly we begin to move quickly to slash emissions.

“If you’re trying to get to zero next year, it’s going to be disruptive,” he says. “If you have two to three decades as the period to manage that transition, then it shouldn’t be a problem.” A 30-year transition — with steady progress during that period — puts us in line with current predictions for avoiding catastrophic climate change, he added.

Christopher Flury is a Fort St. John-based engineer and president of the local chamber of commerce. His income is entirely based on the natural gas industry.

“It’s a major portion of our GDP,” he says, estimating that up to 75 per cent of the local economy relies directly or indirectly on oil and gas.

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A worker at a natural gas well near Fort Nelson, BC. The province has 4,000 direct jobs in oil and gas extraction, almost all in the northeast. Photo by Larry McDougal, the Canadian Press.

The region is seeing an increase in renewable energy projects, with eight wind projects currently proposed, he notes.

“I think a good mix between oil and gas and renewables is how things are going to transition in northeast B.C.,” he says. “If we transition away and completely shut down the industry, I’d say there are over 350 operators just in Fort St. John that would lose their jobs.”

B.C. has 4,000 direct jobs in oil and gas extraction, almost all in the northeast. In addition, last year there were 39,000 oil and gas jobs in engineering and infrastructure building.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, represents many of those workers.

Judge dismisses advocacy group’s bid to speak on behalf of animals in court

An Ontario judge has dismissed an advocacy group’s bid to secure the right to speak on behalf of animals in legal settings.

Superior Court Justice Lorne Sossin says several of the issues raised by Canadians for Animal Protection have merit and deserve to be heard before a court.

But he says the group, led by retired Toronto lawyer Sandra Schnurr, failed a test to determine if a group has the right to have standing in court.

The case began earlier this year when Schnurr filed a notice of application against five retail giants selling glue traps, which are commonly used to catch rodents.

Schnurr argued the traps subject animals to agonizing, prolonged deaths and filed an application seeking to ban Canadian Tire, Walmart, Home Depot, Home Hardware and Lowe’s from selling them.

The retailers countered that Schnurr did not have standing to bring such a matter before the courts and therefore had no right to proceed with the complaint, a position Sossin supported in a ruling released Thursday.

But while the judge’s written decision said Schnurr failed to meet the threshold for public standing, he said she is still free to pursue her primary complaint through other avenues.

“This is not a case where the denial of public interest standing will mean that … the lawfulness of the use of glue traps will not reach the courts,” Sossin said in his decision. “Such a conclusion would be premature. Rather, various paths exist to bring this serious issue to court, which have yet to be pursued.”

Schnurr issued a statement expressing disappointment with Sossin’s decision but confidence that courts would eventually view the matter in a different light.

“There will be other, similar Canadian court cases in the future in which activists will ask for the right to speak on behalf of animals,” she wrote. “It is only a matter of time before a court grants that right.” MORE

One person, one vote? In Canada, it’s not even close

Casting a ballot holds very different weights in different ridings.

The chances are excellent that when you go about marking your ballot in the upcoming federal election, something quirky and quintessentially Canadian will happen without you even knowing it.

Some votes are going to be substantially more powerful than others, especially those cast in the most remote rural ridings. And if you live in a city — especially one growing as rapidly as Greater Toronto — your vote is more likely to register as less than equal.

Take the electoral district of Labrador, for example. Only 27,197 live there, according to Elections Canada. Yes it is vast — you could fit all of the United Kingdom inside Labrador and still have room for Costa Rica. But compared to a typical riding in Brampton or Scarborough, where riding populations exceed the national average, and the numerical disparity is glaring: it will take about four times as many Toronto-area voters to get the same result, electing a single representative to Parliament.

How is that even possible? It’s a long and complicated story, one that began in the earliest years of Confederation itself. But at the heart of the matter is this fundamental fact: Canada lives with a basic and intensifying representational tension, with too few rural and too many urban dwellers.

Or, as John Courtney, Canada’s foremost scholar on these tensions, likes to say, “To paraphrase Mackenzie King, ‘Canada has too much geography and not enough people living in the more remote northern and rural parts of the country.’ ”

Throughout Canada’s first century and beyond, the historic compromise was to err on the side of rural representation — and in so doing, we veered away from the doctrine of “one person, one vote” that our southern neighbours hold so dear.

And Canadians, at the time, were OK with that. Throughout the 20th century Canada had a concurrent problem with “gerrymandering” — federally and provincially, parties in power routinely proposed redrawing ridings for partisan advantage. But Canada — ingeniously, some would say — finally solved gerrymandering in the 1960s by creating 10 Electoral Boundary Commissions, one for each province, effectively taking the power away from politicians and letting experts draw the boundaries.

“I remember once speaking to the league of Women Voters in Washington, D.C., and they were absolutely stunned to hear that Canada had independent electoral commissions,” said Courtney, professor emeritus of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “They thought it was a great idea.”

“They applauded roundly. But then when I put up a map, they wanted to know the relative populations of the districts and when I told them, they were shocked. They just could not grasp how far we are willing to deviate from representation by population.”

The question of whether or not Canadians were guaranteed voting equality was all but settled in a landmark 1991 Supreme Court ruling that said “deviations from absolute voter parity” may be justified under Canada’s charter.

Writing for the majority in the 6-3 decision, Justice Beverley McLachlin dismissed the “one person, one vote” argument, instead famously coining the phrase “effective representation” as the constitutionally enshrined right of all Canadian voters.

“Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation,” McLachlin wrote. But other factors “like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.”

But if things were settled in 1991, many scholars see them as unsettled today — or in need of legislative tweaking, at the least — given the changing face of Canada’s largest cities and urbanization as a whole.

Courtney notes that the unspoken consent in the 1991 ruling was to allow deviations of plus or minus 25 per cent in population equity, riding by riding. And the provincial commissions, which redistribute voting power every 10 years based on fresh census data, have shaped their maps with what many see as glaring inequity.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Pal seized upon the issue in 2015, questioning some of the inequities in Ontario in a paper for the McGill Law Journal titled “The Fractured Right to Vote: Democracy, Discretion and Designing Electoral Districts.”

Pal, speaking to the Star, agreed that even to this day, “there is a very strong principled argument in Canada for permitting deviations from representation by population for truly Northern areas — especially considering Canada’s long and storied history of specifically excluding Indigenous people from participation in the House of Commons.”

But Pal argues the Boundary Commissions that set riding boundaries have altogether too much discretion to remap areas that have nothing to do with the North — and he cites the example of the Niagara Falls district, which during the 2015 federal election was the most populous of all 338 Canadian ridings, with 128,357 people. The adjacent riding of Niagara West, by stark contrast, had only 86,533 inhabitants — a “mystifying inequality” of nearly 40 per cent, he notes.

“It is jarring,” said Pal. “I think people in Niagara Falls would be surprised at the degree that their vote is different from their neighbours in Niagara West. There’s no mountain, no body of water, I can’t see anything in those historic ideals that really makes any sense.”

Though the statute that guides the Provincial Electoral Commissions makes no mention of municipal borders, that appears to be something Ontario’s commission cleaved to in its reshaping of many of the province’s federal electoral boundaries. Some politicos see logic in such an approach, even if it is outside the bounds of statute. MORE